Why did Axminster fail to get Town Fund grant? Because it’s in a safe Tory seat

“The Conservatives have been accused of short-changing the poorest communities in favour of comparatively affluent towns to boost their election prospects.

The government promised that the multibillion-pound towns fund would “unleash the full economic potential of more than 100 places and level up communities throughout the country”.

However, 32 towns on the list fall outside the 300 worst-off in England according to rankings from the Office for National Statistics.

Analysis by The Times reveals the extent to which money has been directed towards wealthier areas that are marginal Conservative-held or target seats.

Among the least deprived locations given priority are Stocksbridge in South Yorkshire, where Angela Smith, who won the seat for Labour in 2017, is standing aside after 14 years, and Loughborough, where the Conservatives are defending a majority of 4,000.

Others include Brighouse, Kidsgrove, Cheadle, Worcester and Crawley, which all sit in constituencies that returned Tory MPs with majorities of less than 5,000 at the 2017 election.

Newark, which is ranked 298th in terms of deprivation, is in the constituency being contested by Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary. The list also features Darwen, the Lancashire constituency that Jake Berry, the northern powerhouse minister, is defending.

Andrew Gwynne, the shadow communities secretary, said: “This raises serious questions about the role that ministers and advisers played in robbing some of the poorest towns in the country to funnel cash into Tory target seats in a scramble for votes.

“The towns fund is an insult to communities across the country that have been forced to bear the greatest burden of austerity.”

Will Jennings, professor of public policy and researcher for the Centre of Towns think tank, said more transparency was urgently needed to justify why some of these towns had been included while places such as Tipton, Bootle and Sheerness had not.

The towns fund has also been criticised for failing to fulfil promises made in the Conservatives’ 2017 manifesto, which pledged to replace £30 billion of structural fund money from the EU with a “United Kingdom shared prosperity fund, specifically designed to reduce inequalities between communities”.

Lisa Nandy, Labour’s candidate in Wigan, said: “We were promised real investment, including billions through a shared prosperity fund. Instead we’ve seen money pushed towards marginal towns during an election campaign.”

Analysis of the towns fund was carried out using Office for National Statistics data on income deprivation, one of the key measures ministers were asked to consider when finalising the recipients. This showed that more than half the 100 towns (55) voted Tory in 2017, yet more than three quarters (85) of the 10 per cent of most deprived towns backed Labour at the last election.

The data revealed that the 100 areas chosen to receive funds had an average parliamentary majority of just over 6,000. This compares with an average majority of almost 11,000 in England’s 10 per cent most deprived towns.

Towns Fund money is going to 23 towns with populations below 25,000, the most widely used classification of a small town. One, Tory-voting Millom, in Cumbria, has just 5,887 people.”

Source: Times (pay wall)

Business rates system broken say MPs

The business rates system is “broken” and needs to be reformed for the benefit of councils and businesses alike, according to a report from the treasury committee released today.

It revealed that the tax generated £31bn in the UK in the last financial year, with revenues rising faster than inflation.

MPs also found councils have applied business rates reliefs inconsistently and urged the government to create a “single comprehensive” guide on how they should operate.

The report acknowledged the government’s plan to increase councils’ retention of business rates from 50% to 75% – but this move, which was meant to start in April 2020, has already been pushed back by a year.

“Any reform of the system should have particular regard both to the need to maintain the total income for local authorities, and to keep the link between individual authorities and the current and potential new businesses in their areas,” it said.

Alison McGovern, Treasury committee’s lead member of the inquiry, said: “It’s abundantly clear that the current business rates system is broken. The tax represents an increasing burden on businesses, particularly those with a physical high street presence struggling to remain competitive.”

Commenting on previous attempts to improve the business rates system, she said: “Odd reliefs here and there are nothing more than sticking plasters to a system in urgent need of reform.”

The committee has heard arguments for alternatives to business rates, such as a ‘land value’ tax – a levy on the land a property exists on rather than the property itself. Another suggestion has been to have online sales levies as the system places a “disproportionate burden” on bricks-and-mortar high street shops compared to online businesses.

However, McGovern said that alternatives had not been “sufficiently modelled to examine who would be the winners and losers of any change.”

The report concluded that it should not be up to “external stakeholders” to develop and evaluate detailed proposals for a new system. Instead, the government should prepare a consultation on the business rates system by the next Spring Statement, it said. …”

Source:Public Finance (pay wall)

More flack for EDDC Leader Ingram on spending and transparency

Not looking good … now being attacked for  wanting to employ consultants to tell him what town centre problems are:

“East Devon District Council ‘lacks good detailed intelligence about its towns and their economic wellbeing’.

Cllr Ben Ingham, leader of the council, admitted: “This is not a good state of affairs,” when questioned at Wednesday night’s full council meeting.

It came after Cllr Mike Allen asked questions over the decision of the portfolio holder for economy, Cllr Kevin Blakey, to commission a major study into town centres.

Cllr Allen asked for an indication of the cost proposed and in the interests of proper transparency, for the Consultancy brief envisaged be put to the next Overview Committee for discussion before any expenditure is committed. …”

https://www.devonlive.com/news/devon-news/east-devon-lacks-good-intelligence-3474769

EDDC Leader on car park charges … basically now a complete muddle

Leader Ben Ingham’s statement – a masterclass on how to make a bad decision worse – a rushed, piecemeal temporary fix that suits no-one and has no clear outcome.

“East Devon Scrutiny committee to set up a Task and Finish Forum to consider the ongoing future of the council’s car parks

At a meeting of East Devon District Council’s Cabinet on Wednesday 2 October, councillors discussed a report detailing proposed changes to car parking charges in East Devon and resolved to take the following steps:

That statutory advertisement and consultation procedures are actioned with a view to changing car park charges from £1 to £1.20 per hour in high demand car parks (including the London Inn, Imperial Road and Queens Drive car parks in Exmouth).

The 20p per hour increase for the high demand car parks is a rounded down inflation based increase from 2010.

To implement a 12 month trial of free coach parking in Seaton Jurassic coach park and a promotional tariff of £2 all day parking in the Canaan Way and Brook Street car parks in Ottery St. Mary

The Cabinet decision was subsequently debated at a meeting on Thursday 3 October by the council’s Scrutiny committee, which has resolved to set up a Task and Finish Forum (TAFF).

This will consider a range of matters with regard to the ongoing and future management and operation of the Council’s car parks.

There is a possibility that the Cabinet decision will also be called-in to the Scrutiny Committee but we will not know this until later next week.”

https://exmouth.nub.news/n/leader-of-east-devon-district-council-issues-statement-regarding-car-parking-tariffs

Car park charges and whelk stalls – a councillor comments

From the blog of East Devon Alliance Sidmouth Rural Councillor John Loudoun, who comments:

  • “I attended last evening’s District Council Cabinet meeting to join 23 other Councillors in voicing our opposition to the proposed increases in parching fees at some car parks and changes to the number of publicly available spaces at others.
  • In particular I was concerned about the proposals as they will detrimentally affect the car parks in Sidbury and Temple Street, as well as the Ham East, Ham West, Roxburgh and Mill Street car parks.
  • The meeting ended up in a farce as the Cabinet carried out a Dutch auction when it came to trying to agree by how much it would increase the parking fees. It was no way to run a whelk stall!”

“Last evening the District Council’s Cabinet met to consider a much-trailed report on changes to car parking arrangements and fees across East Devon. Those of us who are not Cabinet members, about 48 of us, are able to attend and make comments on any of the issues under consideration.

In total 24 non-Cabinet District Councillors spoke on this issue. Because there were so many of us wanting to speak, we were restricted to only two minutes to say what we wanted to.

Before any of us spoke we heard from two members of the public, one of who was James McClean who owns Sidmouth Pets in Temple street who made an impassioned set of arguments as to why the Temple Street car park should not be changed from a free car park to a pay and display one. James is collecting signatures, so please pop in and sign his petition.

I spoke out against the proposal to increase the price of parking in Sidmouth’s Ham East, Ham West, Roxburgh and Mill Street car parks. The proposal is to encourage drivers to use the Manor Road car park instead as it will remain at the current fee.

Not only might an increase, of, as proposed 50% mean that less people use our car parks, but this could lead to less people shopping in Sidmouth. Sidmouth and its traders don’t need this as the shops across Sidmouth and other local high streets are struggling.

It could also mean that drivers might decide to use the private car park opposite the Bedford Hotel as its closer to the town centre than the Manor Road car park is.

I also spoke against the proposal to turn Sidbury’s small free car park to one where only permit holders or residents who have paid for a reserved space can park there. This is a ridiculous proposal! The car park is well used every day and also during many evenings.

It is used to visit our two shops, our Church our Village Hall, our Parish Rooms and Sidbury Primary School. Without our free car park visitors to all of these venues would be forced to clog up Ridgeway, park on the A375 making access through the village even more difficult, or park in other parts of the village where residents will be hugely inconvenienced.

Sidbury’s car park is also used by many who live in the centre of the village and who either don’t have either off road parking spaces or have space outside or nearer to their homes.

After all of the 24 non-Cabinet members had spoken the Cabinet then debated the proposals. Oh dear! This turned into a complete farce as different Cabinet members proposed various amendments to the proposals and the Leader, Ben Ingham, who was chairing the meeting, totally failed to keep control of the discussions and in so doing added to what was already a confusing Cabinet debate.

After what seemed to be forever, the Cabinet, although not by a unanimous vote supported a set of slightly amended proposals keeping the intent to increase parking fees, although by not quite as much, in all the various car parks identified. The Cabinet settled on a 20% increase in these car parks after the Leader had in effect carried out a Dutch auction with numbers appearing to be plucked out of the air.

This was no way to make decisions which include increasing parking fees. Instead of pulling the report and reviewing it in light of the total opposition of the 24 Councillors who spoke against the proposals we ended up with a set of Cabinet decisions taken through a bidding process.

This matter will not end here. The Cabinet Minutes which will record last evening’s decisions on car parking will be presented to Full Council on 23 October. Councillor’s will have the opportunity to challenge the Minute and even vote against it, thus rescinding the decisions made by Cabinet.

Members of the public too can attend the Full Council and put across their points of view on this and any other matter.

Alternatively, a Motion could come from a Councillor which calls for the car parking proposals to be scrapped. This is set to run for a while longer!

If you are interested in reading the full proposals that were discussed last evening at Cabinet follow this link –

https://democracy.eastdevon.gov.uk/documents/s6966/Car%20Parking%20Tariff%20Review%20-%20Careful%20Choices.pdf

“High Street crisis: Towns lose FIFTY-five football pitches worth of retail space as shops are converted for other use”

“Fifty-five football pitches worth of retail space has been lost in just a year as the crisis on the High Street continues to take its toll.

The 4.2million sq ft of lost space in England and Wales – where shopping units have been converted for other uses – comes as shoppers continue to flock online. …”

https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/news/article-7492165/High-Street-crisis-Towns-lose-FIFTY-five-football-pitches-worth-retail-space.html?ito=rss-flipboard

“We can revive Britain’s high streets. But developers stand in the way”

“… there are just fewer and fewer drivers of footfall. You cannot get your hair cut online, so barbers – like nail bars, tattoo parlours and tanning salons – buck the downward trend. But we only need so many of these. Greggs and to-go food stores are buoyant; gyms and takeaways are the only sectors showing double-digit net growth, says PwC. But even that feels precarious. Delivery apps are driving growth in the takeaway sector but, if in-person purchases fall, these could quickly migrate to so-called dark kitchens on industrial estates.

“The reality is we may need fewer high streets in the future,” says a PwC spokesperson. “This opens opportunities to repurpose high street space, while [evolving] to meet consumer demand.”

But what will that look like? In 2011 Mary Portas, retail expert and Cameron-era government consultant, lobbied for an anti-clone-town drive to remodel high streets around independent shops. But bar a few niche fashion, gift or record shops, supermarkets marched relentlessly on. The butcher, baker and candlestick-maker now work in Tesco.

Consequently councils and property developers increasingly want to use food and drink to seed regeneration, many inspired by Altrincham’s Market House. In 2010, 30% of Altrincham’s shops lay empty. In 2014, the Market House opened – a communal dining hall of independent kitchens attached to a speciality market – and, since then, a remarkable ecology of bars, restaurants and coffee shops has evolved around it. Footfall has risen sharply, shop vacancy rates have fallen to 9.7% and brands such as JD Sports and Nando’s have moved into the town’s once-failing shopping area.

Market House’s operator, Nick Johnson, a former board member at property company Urban Splash, claims for the £635,000 it cost (£435,000 came from Trafford council, Johnson contributed the rest) : “It has probably delivered the greatest regeneration outputs of any project in 25 years.”

Little wonder councils love the idea: it allows them to cost-effectively reinvent one of the few central sites they still own, the market.

There are similar schemes in development countrywide. But it will be tough to repeat Altrincham’s success. First, it is a relatively affluent Greater Manchester town bordering Cheshire; and second, Johnson’s unorthodox curation of some exceptional foodie talent (like the artists on his friend Tony Wilson’s Factory records, none of the Altrincham traders have signed contracts) has provided an X factor that councils and developers will find hard to mimic.

There is also something about both the Portas and Altrincham models of handmade, artisan-roasted regeneration that, at their most crude, feel a bit myopically middle class. Mishandled, it can create silos of gentrification that alienate residents. Craft markets are great, but where does your nana buy a new washing line?

If town centres are to shrink and be redrawn, surely the ideal would be to intermingle viable businesses that attract different kinds of customers (in age and socioeconomic status), much as Trafford’s Stretford Mall is trying to blend hip new businesses into its established tenant mix. That fosters social cohesion but, commercially, there is strength in numbers, too – in making it easy to shop at Quality Save and Boots, Greggs and Stretford’s new Food Hall canteen, as mood or budget permits.

Not that this future should always have a commercial imperative. As town centres empty, there is a generational opportunity to reverse the gross monetisation of our public realm. This is a chance to make the principles of placemaking – creating inclusive public spaces where people can enjoy their leisure time without spending money – a reality. Nonprofit arts and cultural organisations forced out by high rents could, likewise, come back into empty shop units (long-term, not as a temporary gesture by developers), to re-engage local people with these spaces – and without it costing them £6 a pint.

But will any of this happen? The short answer is no. Councils do not have the money or the compulsory-purchase powers to radically intervene. Enlightened developers are rare. The patchwork of smaller private landlords who own peripheral space in town centres need to fill their properties, hence the fact that cool cottage industries tend to flourish there, in pockets. But the remote coalition of global property management, pension and investment funds that owns most shopping precincts or malls is, at best, distantly concerned with the local population.

Even if the retail property market crashes (in January, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors warned unusually of “potential for significant changes in value”), such owners will consolidate, sell property, bulldoze it and redevelop, and if shopping centres can limp on, they will. Under new permitted development rights, closed high street retail units can now easily be turned into residential property.

Where will those new residents congregate? High streets may yet be reborn as the genuine heart of their communities, protected from commercial pressure, but don’t bet on it – and certainly not online.”

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/sep/14/britain-high-streets-developers-footfall?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other